Pierre’s Callahan volunteers for university Test Iowa COVID-19 initiative

Ryan Callahan, a master’s student in microbiology, began volunteering as a member of the validation team at the University of Iowa.

A July article published by the University of Iowa features T.F. Riggs High School graduate Ryan Callahan as part of the Test Iowa initiative.

Excerpts from the article written by Anders Frieberg include:

“When the pandemic forced research labs to shutter across campus this spring, a group of graduate students sought to help address the crisis by volunteering with the University of Iowa’s State Hygienic Lab. Representing a variety of programs, these students were similarly motivated to help and played crucial roles in the initial setup of the lab and validation of testing methods.

“Ryan Callahan, a master’s student in microbiology, began volunteering as a member of the validation team at the same time and was involved in the extraction stage. He was charged with extracting RNA from patient samples, which is the genetic material of COVID-19.

“Callahan felt compelled to help during the pandemic and similarly felt volunteering with SHL testing was the best way to use his skills. It has also allowed him to apply the research skills he has learned through his scholarship to a clinical setting.

“ ‘We didn’t know when we started that it was going to work definitively, and we found out quickly that there were things that needed to be modified and fixed,’ said Callahan. ‘Just having to troubleshoot my own experiments in the lab was an invaluable experience when it comes to something like this – where it works, but we can make it better.’

“Procedures like RNA extraction or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) are commonly used in his microbiology program. Beyond honing his scientific skills, he has appreciated gaining more experience with techniques like these, as well as being able to work in a diverse lab and connecting with people from a variety of backgrounds.

“ ‘It’s been great to meet some of the other people helping out with the Test Iowa platform,’ said Callahan. ‘A lot of them are coming from the university, but they’re not people I would normally interact with because we’re in different departments. It’s been cool to work with a team where we all have very different backgrounds, but we’re all focused on the same goal.’

“ ‘Testing is obviously important and it’s something we direly need, so to actually get to play a part in that has been great,’ said Callahan. ‘Especially being in an academic setting where you’re doing more fundamental research, getting the opportunity to do something in a more clinical and diagnostic setting has been exciting.’ ”

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